‘Star Trek’ Actress Arlene Martel Dies at 78

This past week has been tremendously sad as we’ve lost several notable stars of the big and small screen. Arlene Martel, who Star Trek fans will remember for playing Spock’s Vulcan bride, T’Pring in “Amok Time,” died on Tuesday, August 12, 2014. She won’t be recognized by nearly as many people as Robin Williams or Lauren Becall but to Trek fans like myself, she holds a special place in our hearts. I’m not afraid to say I had a huge crush on Martel as T’Pring as a boy and although she appeared in other TV series including Hogan’s Heroes, Bewitched, The Wild, Wild West and Battlestar Galactica (1978), I’ll always remember her as the coldly logical vulcan who managed to outsmart even Spock. Rest in peace, Arlene.

Talented Pianist is Talented

Passengers at the Václav Havel Airport in Prague waiting for their flight were recently treated to an impressive display by musician Maan Hamadeh. In the clip he performs Beethoven’s “Für Elise,” in multiple styles and then around the 2:30 mark turns to the theme to ‘Titanic’ in amazing fashion. I’m always astounded by people who possess such ability for musical instruments. I tried and failed at the drums and piano as a kid but always enjoyed watching and listening to my father play the piano when I was growing up. If you have a few minutes, take a moment and enjoy this brief clip, it really is wonderful.

One Perfect Shot: TOS ‘The Corbomite Maneuver’

Back in 2006 CBS Home Video began airing the first episodes of Star Trek: The Original Series in their newly re-mastered format. These episodes featured improved CGI effects, HD picture quality and professional sound mixing and have become my absolute favorite examples of how remastering a classic property such as Star Trek, should be approached. Mike Okuda and the team at CBS focused on creating visuals that enhanced the originals; more realistic planets, more detail on the Enterprise and beautifully rendered alien landscapes. The team produced the kinds of shots the original show creators would have used themselves if possible. The remastered original series is a testament to restraint and good visual design and if you want a great example, look no further than ‘The Corbomite Maneuver’.

Our one perfect shot features the Enterprise dwarfed by the Fesarius, the flagship of the “First Federation”, an immense ship of size and power. Captain Kirk and crew make first contact with Balok, commander of the Fesarius and employ a cunning bluff to avoid certain destruction. As a kid, this shot of the Enterprise and Fesarius always gave me chills and the newly remastered version adds a definite sense of wonder and awe. The detail on the surface of the Fesarius is now geometric in nature and the entire ship seems to pulse with limitless energy. I also love how we can see some of the internal structure of Balok’s craft which takes visual cues from geodesic dome designs like EPCOT’s Spaceship Earth. The re-mastered special effects in The Corbomite Maneuver are impressive, beautiful and purposeful which adds up to the perfect combination for one perfect shot.

Notably, the other shot I considered for this episode depicts one of the most iconic (and low-tech) aliens from the entire series, the puppet of Balok’s alter ego himself. Created by production designer Wah Chang, this supremely alien character could have easily been replaced with a CG version of the primitive puppet, but Okuda and team wisely let him stand in his original form. Chang’s original concept sketch for Balok is wonderful and his depiction on the small screen was often featured in the closing credits of Star Trek episodes each week. I almost chose Balok for this episode’s one perfect shot, but in the end the beauty and attention to detail of the remastered Fesarius won out.

Next up, Spock kidnaps the Enterprise in a bold attempt to help his former Captain in ‘The Menagerie Pt. I & II’

Remembering Robin Williams

I and many other people are feeling a deep loss at the sad news that funny man and Oscar-winning dramatic actor, Robin Williams, has died at the age of 63. From my introduction to Robin as Mork from Ork on Happy Days to his break-out stand-up performance at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, I followed his career at every step of the way and enjoyed everything he appeared in. Some of my favorite Williams’ performances include Good Morning, Vietnam, his amazing voice over work as the Genie in Disney’s Aladdin, Dead Poet’s Society, Awakenings, Toys and The Birdcage. It pains me to say it but there are many films he’s appeared in that I’ve never seen. With his passing I think I’ll have to correct that oversight and re-discover some of Robin’s incredible work anew.

There are only a few celebrities & personal heroes who, when they pass, I will truly grieve for. Robin Williams is one such person. He brought so much happiness, laughter and light into our lives it’s difficult to imagine a world without him. Personally, I’ll be focusing on all those wonderful moments and characters, all the belly-laughs and chuckles and even the tears he conjured as he entertained and transfixed us. He was a bright star in the lives of those friends and fans who loved him and he will be dearly missed.

In Memory of Babylon 5

For the past week or so I’ve begun re-watching the groundbreaking scifi TV show, Babylon 5 from episode one. A few years back I began watching the series when it was available on Netflix streaming and I managed to get up to season 3 when it was unceremoniously dropped before I could finish. My friend Corey has let me borrow his entire Bab 5 DVD collection and this time I’m going to make it all the way through to the end.

Re-watching the series I’ve begun to remember just how strong the characters and story arc was, especially for 90′s scifi television. My first love will always be Deep Space Nine, but I do understand the fan’s love of Babylon 5, its mythos and definitive beginning, middle and end storytelling structure. It’s also easy to see the appeal of the series thanks to the chemistry between the actors and actresses who played their respective parts to a tee. I’m particularly fond of Claudia Christian as Ivanova and Andreas Katsulas as G’Kar. Sadly Katsulas passed away in 2006, as did the series’ original lead Michael O’Hare in 2012 at the age of 60. In fact, many of the original cast of Babylon 5 is no longer with us which is a sad footnote in Babylon 5′s history.

I recently came across a wonderful memorial video that series’ creator Straczynski put together for the 2013 Phoenix Comicon Convention. I’ll admit it made me quite misty and I just wanted to share. If you love Babylon 5 and the people who helped bring it to life, this short video is a great way to remember them. I’m very much looking forward to seeing the entire series unfold from start to finish and finally learning what becomes of Sheridan, G’Kar, Londo and the rest. Hopefully with the recent announcement of a possible big-screen re-boot of Babylon 5 coming our way, new fans will discover this amazing scifi universe and its characters.

Breaking Bad’s Long, Long Rap Sheet

With AMC’s production of Better Call Saul in full swing, and Breaking Bad nominated for several Emmy awards, it seems like a good time to reflect on the show. Enter this cool infographic that outlines each of the main character’s criminal charges from the series’ run. Walter and his pals sure where busy little criminal bees, that’s for sure. Personally, I can’t wait for Better Call Saul to hit the airwaves, hopefully complete with key cameos from Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul. As I’m sure Walter would say, you can never have enough of a good thing. Click the image to see the entire info graphic.

The Only Thing I’ve Ever Wanted

As the days and hours march inexorably towards the launch of Yosemite and iOS 8 this fall, I find my thoughts turning more and more to the fabled and much-rumored iWatch. I’ve been trying to think of what Apple could possibly offer in such a wearable device that might get me to jump in and buy one if it will indeed exist. I don’t need a time piece, I haven’t actually worn a watch in years. I stopped wearing them around the time the iPhone came out, as I’m sure many people did. I’ve read the pitiful reviews of Samsung’s early efforts with smart watches and unsurprisingly was less than impressed. Even if the design of these devices was more elegant and sleek than they currently are, the feature sets just wouldn’t be enough for me to wear both a smart watch and carry around my trusty iPhone.

In order to be desirable, Apple’s iWatch has to fulfill a need that I currently don’t know I have. While this sounds like typical Apple fanboy BS, strangely enough it actually does make sense. Steve Jobs once famously said “It’s not the customer’s job to know what they want.” and I firmly believe this. One thing that Apple does, perhaps better than any other company on the planet, is to elicit desire in people for their products. They do this by identifying key customer needs, and then meticulously design a simple and elegant solution. One so beautiful and easy to use the public doesn’t understand why it hasn’t been there all along. I really think this will be the case with the iWatch. Some of these feature sets have been speculated since day one. Perhaps some kind of intelligent notification system, health monitor or location aware smart assistant are in the cards but again, I’m not sure any of these would make me crave it.

I am sure the iWatch will not replace a user’s iPhone. The margins on these devices just won’t be high enough for that kind of strategy. Logically, a wearable iDevice would extend the functions of your iPhone (or Mac) to give you more control over your digital life. I just sat down at my Mac, so don’t send that IM to my iPhone, iPad and Mac, just my iPhone. Wouldn’t that be great? Yeah it sure would but it could also be done by simply making your iPhone smarter. My phone goes everywhere I go, I don’t need something like an iRing for that.

Unfortunately that leads us back to square one and perhaps it’s for the best. Trying to outguess Tim Cook’s Apple may be a fun diversion for bloggers and tech mavens but personally I’d rather give the talented folks at Apple the benefit of the doubt. I’m confident that if and when the iWatch does arrive it be simple to use, beautiful to look at and most of all make perfect sense. As Futurama’s Philip J. Fry once said, “Whatever is in there, it’s the only thing I’ve ever wanted!” You took the words right out of our mouths, Phillip.

One Perfect Shot: TOS ‘Dagger of the Mind’

While on a routine cargo drop to the Tantalus Penal Colony, the Enterprise takes on a stowaway, the violently insane Dr. Simon Van Gelder. The episode’s one perfect shot depicts Spock preparing for the series’ very first Vulcan mind-meld while Dr. McCoy looks on. This shot is quintessential original series Trek – the concerned look on McCoy’s face as Spock is hunched over in deep meditation speaks volumes about the two’s relationship with each other. They team up to perform a risky procedure in the hopes of uncovering what’s really happening at Doctor Tristan Adams’ institute of horrors, and manage to save Jim in the process. Dagger of the Mind is one of the very first episodes I remember loving and remains a personal favorite to this day.

Next time Kirk demonstrates to Spock poker’s advantages over chess in ‘The Corbomite Maneuver‘.

Weird Al’s Word Crimes

Weird Al has a new album out this week and to celebrate he’s releasing a bunch of new videos, one a day for eight days. Today’s release, Word Crimes, is sheer brilliance. This educational ear worm gets added to my list of Weird Al songs that I actually like better than the originals. Other entries on that list include eBay, The Saga Begins and A Complicated Song. Word Crimes’ video features fun and fast-moving kinetic typography that I had to watch over and over to catch all the jokes. I bought Al’s album, Mandatory Fun earlier today on iTunes and it’s already one of my all-time Al favs. If you’re a Weird Al fan be sure to check it out!

One Perfect Shot: TOS ‘What Are Little Girls Made Of?’

The crew of the Enterprise goes in search of Roger Korby, a famous scientist missing for over five years and gets much more than they bargained for in season one’s ‘What Are Little Girls Made Of?‘. Korby has chanced upon an extinct civilization that long ago learned how to transfer human consciousness into the body of androids. He intends to bring this technology to the galaxy, by hook or by crook, and tries to convince Captain Kirk and his former fiancée, Nurse Christine Chapel of the importance of his discoveries with a personal demonstration.

Our one perfect shot for ‘Little Girls…” takes place as Korby forcefully straps Kirk into the android duplication machine, a robotic blank on one side, the naked captain on the other. The device spins up to speed and when it winds back down an exact replica of the Captain appears before Christine, one so perfect even she can’t tell them apart! I love how the physical prop of the duplication machine bisects the screen for the camera and creates a mirror image. I’m sure its design made the process of optical composting easier for the special effects team, but beyond that it just looks plain cool. Shatner as Kirk is naked and more vulnerable that we’ve ever seen him in the series which gives the whole scene a tense, Twilight Zonish vibe.

While I was picking the shot for this episode I was once again struck with the amazing use of color from scene to scene. Taking a cue from the fine folks over at Dribbble.com, I’ve created a fun color palette based on the hues from the selected shot. It’s fascinating to see how the individual colors form a harmonious palette that makes up a typical frame from Trek. I won’t be doing this for every post but I think it would be fun to create them for key shots from time to time and get a better sense of the vibrant use of color in the original Star Trek.

Finally, I felt I just had to post at least one of the incredible re-mastered special effects shots from this episode. I’m taking all of my perfect shots from Netflix streaming and this works great because this is the re-mastered HD version of the series that Paramount released on blu ray a few years back. I’ll go into more detail about the fantastic improvements in special effects the team at CBS managed to achieve, but for now, just take a minute and click on this epic shot of the Enterprise. For a Star Trek fan like myself, it’s simply stunning.

Next time we visit another exact duplicate, but this time it’s an entire planet Earth in ‘Miri‘.

One Perfect Shot: TOS ‘Mudd’s Women’

Our one perfect shot for ‘Mudd’s Women‘ introduces us to Eve, Ruth and Magda, Harry Mudd’s traveling companions and “cargo” destined to become the wives of settlers on the planet Ophiuchus III. The bewitching trio are rescued from their damaged freighter and step off the transporter pad quickly ensnaring the male members of the Enterprise crew thanks to something called the Venus drug which creates illusory beauty. The episode is notable mainly for the introduction of the character of Harry Mudd himself who eventually returns to taunt the Enterprise crew in S2, Ep 12 ‘I, Mudd‘.

I have to admit, selecting this one was child’s play. It’s a great example of how the series’ production designers and directors portrayed many of the beautiful women who graced the small screen during the show’s three year run. Be they exotic, alien femme fatales or capable crew members of the Starship Enterprise, women on Star Trek always seemed to have perfect lighting, makeup, hair and framing. They were also typically shot using a soft-focus filter to highlight the femininity of the actresses, a technique often used in 60′s television but rarely seen today.

Tomorrow we find out just “What Are Little Girls Made Of?” and something tells me it won’t be sugar, spice and everything nice.

One Perfect Shot: TOS ‘The Enemy Within’

The Enemy Within is a dramatic examination of the human psyche and all the good and bad things that go along with it. When Kirk is split into two halves by a freak transporter accident, Jim quickly finds he can’t function as Captain without the aggressive, animalistic nature of his opposite self. The episode is interesting on a number of levels, most especially how the interplay between the “big three” – Kirk, Spock and McCoy changes as Jim’s assertive side wanders the ship in search of Saurian brandy.

As a kid, I always found episodes where the main characters behaved unusually the most difficult to watch and ‘Enemy’ falls squarely into this category. The normal, sure-footed Kirk is given to second-guessing every order as he slowly but surely turns into a mere shadow of his former self. Just as painful is the “evil” Captain who drinks, throws fits of uncontrollable anger and almost manages to rape Yeoman Janice Rand. To his credit, William Shatner does a remarkable job of making the two halves seem like completely different people. One smarmy and creepy, the other gentle and timid. Neither is our Captain however, and the quicker we get them back together, the better.

This episode’s perfect shot comes as Kirk and Spock descend into Engineering to try and safely capture Jim’s ‘dark’ self. I love how this shot is framed with the two characters conversing between the massive engines of the Starship Enterprise. There are many important duo’s in Star Trek, the most beloved of which is Kirk and Spock. Here we see the pair working together yet again to save not only the crew but Captain Kirk’s very existence. Trust me, it won’t be the last time.

Next we find out if beauty does indeed come in a pill, courtesy of “Mudd’s Women“.

One Perfect Shot: TOS ‘Where No Man Has Gone Before’

Originally filmed as the historic second pilot to Star Trek, ‘Where No Man Has Gone Before‘ is yet another story of humans acquiring god-like abilities. The episode re-used much of the production design from the original pilot of ‘The Cage’ including sets, costumes and props. DeForrest Kelly and Nichelle Nichols had not yet been cast as Dr. McCoy and Lt. Uhura and the show didn’t have its familiar opening narration, the last line of which comes from the title of this episode. Roddenberry pitched several scripts to NBC as the second pilot including ‘The Omega Glory’ and ‘Mudd’s Women’. In the end it was ‘Where No Man Has Gone Before’ that caught the studio’s eye, probably due in-part to the knock-down fist fight between Kirk and Mitchell Gene specifically wrote to help sell the show as his “Wagon Train to the stars“.

Our perfect shot features Gary Lockwood as Lt. Cmdr. Gary Mitchell and Sally Kellerman as Dr. Elizabeth Dehner staring at their eerie reflections as they realize they’ve evolved beyond normal humans. The other-worldly effect of the glowing eyes was achieved by sandwiching wrinkled tinfoil between two scleral contact lenses which covered the entire eye of the actors. Lockwood quickly discovered how extremely uncomfortable the lenses were and found he could only see if he tilted his head back, allowing him to peer out the tiny eye slits in the foil. To his credit, the actor used this to enhance his performance and gave Mitchell an increasingly arrogant gaze as his mutation eventually overtook him. For a time, fans speculated that Mitchell’s character might be the villain in the second J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek feature film Star Trek Into Darkness, but we all know who that turned out to be instead. :-)

Next on the slate, then Enterprise crew gets freaky-deaky in ‘The Naked Time‘.

One Perfect Shot: Star Trek’s ‘Charlie X’

Poor Charles Evans. Stranded on a planet of inter-dimensional aliens since the age of 3, Charlie had no one to teach him the finer social graces. The result is a self-centered teenager with the ability to bend the entire world to his will, kinda like Justin Bieber on psychic steroids. ‘Charlie X’ isn’t one of my favorite episodes of classic Star Trek, but I was surprised how difficult it was to select the one perfect shot. By this time in its production, Star Trek’s visual style had started to be defined. Blocking, lighting and pacing were starting to come together and the result makes ‘Charlie X’ more visually cohesive as a result.

I chose this single shot for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the gorgeous background that frames Charlie’s face, but also because it perfectly illustrates what the episode is all about. The lone teenager, flush with power and hormones, desperate for acceptance, daring Kirk to push him. Charlie gives off a creepy vibe throughout the story and this shot visualizes it to a tee.

Next time we go ‘Where No Man Has Gone Before‘.

One Perfect Shot: TOS ‘The Man Trap’

This episode of classic Star Trek always creeped me out as a kid, and with good reason. An alien creature who can assume the appearance of anyone, roaming the halls of the Enterprise in search of its next victim. The original series’ ‘The Man Trap’ oozes with mystery and horror and saves the best bit until the very end when the Nancy Crater, otherwise known as the Salt Vampire, reveals herself to the crew and the audience. Our perfect shot takes place just prior to that bizarre ending as Nancy has tossed Spock aside like a rag doll and has Captain Kirk firmly in her hypnotic gaze.

I always found it a bit of a stretch that Professor Crater could survive for almost two years alone on M-113 with Nancy and not get the salt sucked right out of him. Given how many crew members end up dead, you’d think her appetite was almost insatiable. Then again I guess it’s kinda like fasting for weeks, once you’re surrounded by food after having gone so long with so little, you kinda want to put your big pants on and sail right on into salt-town.

Next up is one of my least-favorite Star Trek episodes – ‘Charlie X‘. This should be interesting. :-/

One Perfect Shot: Star Trek’s ‘The Cage’

My good friend Dave Caolo has started something neat over on his Tumblr blog. He’s posting a definitive single frame or “shot” from each of episode of the classic TV show, The Twilight Zone and I gotta admit, it’s pretty cool. So cool in fact that Dave has inspired me to do the same with one of my all-time favorite TV shows, Star Trek: The Original Series. I’ll try to post one shot a day (although I’m pretty sure that won’t really happen) until I get through the entire three seasons. What I promise I will try and do is pick the most iconic, gorgeous and definitive shots from each of the 79 episodes of Star Trek and give a brief description of why I picked them.

Why Star Trek? Simply put, the show changed my life. It captured my imagination as a boy and never let go. Each week I journeyed to strange new worlds and in the process I became life-long friends with Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock and Dr. McCoy. It inspired me to do well in school, be tolerant of people’s differences and dream big. So where do we begin? Why, at the beginning of course! Our first entry is from the Star Trek pilot “The Cage”. Considered “Too cerebral” by the network suits at NBC back in the day, “The Cage” didn’t originally air as the first episode of Trek, but was later re-cut into the first season, two-parter The Menagerie.

Our perfect shot is quintessential Star Trek, the sinister Talosian alien keeps a watchful eye over Captain Pike and the captured crash victim, Vina. I considered a shot of Vina herself as the iconic green Orion slave girl to represent ‘The Cage’ but the Talosian with his alien costume, throbbing cranium and classic Trek back-lighting won the honor. I can already tell it’s going to be difficult to pick a single frame to represent each episode of classic Star Trek, but at least it gives me an excuse to watch them all yet again in glorious HD. I hope you enjoy this series of posts, I think it’s going to be fun. Next up – ‘The Man Trap‘!

There’s a New Chick-en Town

Next week, the nation’s largest chicken chain (by sales), Chick-Fil-A, will launch a new grilled chicken recipe that it spent seven years and more than $50 million dollars developing. The new recipe is designed to get customers to crave grilled chicken as much as their signature “Southern fried chicken sandwiches”, a tall order to be sure. Chick-Fil-A’s recipe for more healthy, tasty offerings have helped propel the chain past Yum! Brands (the parent company that owns KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut) in total annual sales. The Atlanta-based Chick-Fil-A took in $5 billion last year to KFC’s $4.22 billion and did it with only 1/3 the number of locations. Enter Super Chix, an unassuming, singular restaurant which opened just this week in Arlington, Texas. Super Chix is (hopefully) Yum! Brands’ answer to the seemingly unstoppable, juicy juggernaut that is Chick-Fil-A.

Although Super Chix is, at least for the moment, a single test location deep in the heart of Texas, Yum! could quickly seed Super Chix resturants across the country should the concept prove successful. And just what is that concept? Although it’s tempting to brand Super Chix as clone of Chick-Fil-A, it actually seems more like a remix of several successful chains. Super Chix founders, three guys named Christophe, Nick and Jeff, say they offer simple food made with “ingredients everyone can pronounce,” made with no MSG, high-fructose corn syrup or phosphates. The chain offers hand-squeezed lemonade, hand-cut Idaho fries ala Five Guys, and three types of pickles for their sandwiches – Sriracha sweet & sour sauce and kosher. For my money though, one of the most notable lines of attack isn’t what they’re offering, so much as when they’re offering it:

With increased pressure from casual fast food chains like Chipotle Mexican Grill, Panera Bread and especially Chick-Fil-A, Yum! knows they need to get crackin’ in order to stem sliding sales. Good, simple food is certainly the best way to turn things around but Super Chix would also give consumers an important choice in the morality department. Chick-Fil-A and its owner Dan Cathy, came under scrutiny in 2010 for his documented support of anti-gay, Christian organizations which sparked several grass-roots boycotts. It’s uncertain if those boycotts hurt Chick-Fil-A or not but the PR backlash was real and probably led to Cathy’s reversal of company policy in 2012. Furthermore, Cathy recently admitted he wants his business to “move past” the anti-gay controversy, leave politics to politicians and focus on expanding the chain’s offerings. Sounds great, but consumers like me have a long memory. If I had a place to patronize that gave me all the delicious chicken goodness of Chick-Fil-A without any of the “holier than thou” attitude, I for one would certainly take it.

For the time being you’ll have to visit Arlington if you want to try a Super Chix chicken sandwich, chicken tenders or their creamy frozen custards. I certainly won’t be making a pilgrimage to Texas any time soon, but I will be hoping (not praying) that the test market is successful enough to warrant future expansions. Besides, those adorable cows have hogged the lime light long enough.

Go Buy Monument Valley. Now.

Chances are you’ve probably already heard all about the stunning new game from developer ustwo – Monument Valley that was released today. If the game is new to you, then let’s just clear the air right now – go buy it on the app store for your iOS device. Now. This is one of those instances where a piece of software is so stunningly beautiful, and provides such an incredibly rich experience, you’re really missing something if you take a pass. Here are just some of the things you’ll see in this amazing casual puzzler:

There’s a great deal to love in Monument Valley. From it’s rich, varied color palettes that change from level to level, to the extremely clever, M.C. Escher-like design of its levels, to the gorgeous soundtrack and audio effects, Monument Valley delivers at every turn. From the moment you start to play, it’s obvious how much love and attention the folks at ustwo have put into their creation. They’ve managed to design a complete gaming experience and bring it to you via the App Store for a minimal price. Too often games these days are filled with in-app purchases that prey on instant gratification to keep players interested. Monument Valley eschews all that in favor of creating a compelling, finite and beautiful environment for you to get lost in for a few hours of your life. The last few levels in particular are wildly inventive and especially challenging.

If you’ve read the reviews, then you probably know that Monument Valley’s play time is short. It took me a total of about 3 hours (off and on) from start to finish to complete all of the levels, and for some, that length may be a deal breaker. If you feel that way I have news for you – many awesome things in life are short but that doesn’t make them any less worthy of your time or money. You’ll probably spend more on your next meal out than you would on Monument Valley but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy both while they last. The game creators have said they focused on making a concise title that can be completed in a short amount of time on purpose. While this may be true, it doesn’t really matter to me because I know if the game is a success (which I certainly hope it is) then we’ll probably be seeing a great deal more of the mystical world of Monument Valley. Show your support of their efforts to bring you something wonderful and head over to the App Store and buy it, gift it and help spread the word by leaving a review today.

They Wouldn’t Know Good TV If It Shambled Up & Bit Them


SPOILER WARNING: This post contains spoilers for AMC’s The Walking Dead. If you’ve not watched the season 4 finale yet, back away from the blog post! I’m about to talk about stuff you probably don’t wanna know. You’ve been warned!

Last night I watched the season 4 finale of one of my favorite shows, AMC’s The Walking Dead and it did not disappoint. The show proved once again why I and other fans still enjoy tuning in week after week. The finale was a perfect blend of tense action, rich character development and satisfying resolutions with just enough un-answered questions to get us to return in October. Despite this, as I read some of the reviews of “A”, it’s apparent some critics feel The Walking Dead is about as exciting as one of its re-animated corpses.

The A.V. Club’s Zack Handlen rated the finale a meh-erific “B+”, lamenting the crucial flashbacks that gave Rick’s extreme cruelness on the dark road that much more bite. These flashbacks work, if for nothing else but to remind us of a time when Rick and Herschel had hope for the future, something that we’re constantly reminded has to be fought for. I enjoyed seeing Herschel again and loved how the flashbacks acted as an important contrast for what the group experiences when they finally reach Terminus.

Meanwhile, over at TV.com, reviewer Tim Surette called the finale a “pretty crummy season-ender” that was anti-climatic and would have served better as the penultimate entry. Personally, I think Tim’s off his apocalyptic rocker. The finale HAD to end with the arrival at Terminus anything less would have been anti-climatic. This was the mistake Game of Thrones made last season by not making The Red Wedding the finale it deserved to be. Critics like Zack and Tim have missed the entire point of S4′s journey not to mention dramatic plot structure and it’s pissing me off.

Critics often take stabs at The Walking Dead when the show veers into character studies with “nothing happening” in the zombie department. The thing is however that in order for us to care about what happens to these characters, we need down time with them to learn where they came from and what drives them. Season 4′s mini-stories have been great at letting viewers get inside the heads of characters like Darryl, Carol, Tyreese and Michonne. The Walking Dead’s terrifying moments can’t possibly hold our attention unless we emotionally invest in Rick, Carl, Maggie and the others week after week. One of the ways we invest are through quiet scenes like the one in “A” between Rick and Darryl as they sit against the car. Rick finally tells Darryl that he is his “brother”, something the audience has felt for a long time but Rick’s never come out and said. In this moment, the audience is rewarded in spades because we all know Darryl is far more Rick’s brother than Shane ever was. It was a brilliant and satisfying emotional moment and I loved it.

Other highlights included the foreshadowing of the rabbit snare and the one at Terminus, Michonne and Carl’s “monster” exchange in the forest and Rick “hulking-out” on Joe’s gang, gutting the guy who was about to rape his son. Here we are reminded yet again just what lengths Rick is willing to go to to protect Carl and the others in his “family”. It was a visceral, heart-pounding scene worthy of the finale as was Rick’s parting line “They’re screwing with the wrong people.” When he exclaimed that, I practically jumped from the couch, yelling “F*ck YEAH!“.

One day, The Walking Dead will cease to be exciting. We’ll have had enough of the hopelessness, enough of the roaming hoards eating the characters we love. For some the show seems to have jumped the zombie shark long ago, but for fans like myself, there are lots of stories left to tell, more secrets to be revealed and tons of brains left to eat. As far as I’m concerned, the undead (and the critics) can bite me!

Ollie Flies Free(mium)

Today marks a new beginning for Twitterrific, the venerable third party Twitter client from the Iconfactory. Today we’re announcing the app is now free to download from it’s normal price of $2.99. We’ve added several in-app purchases to the app to help cover the cost of push notifications and tweet translation, but the bulk of the revenue to continue development will now come from Deck Network ads that will appear above the timeline. Twitterrific has been available in the App Store since day one and we’ve experimented with both paid and free revenue models. Why are we returning to the freemium model now? Simply put, we’re hoping that by making the app free to download and use, we’ll get Twitterrific into the hands of thousands more people and those additional users will help support development via the increased ad revenue far into the future. The best part is that thanks to new App Store receipt handling in iOS 7, existing paid users are grandfathered into the new model and don’t have to restore any purchases. The app, with all it’s features, just works.

There are lots of risks with moving to this type of revenue model, but version 4 of Twitterrific was by far our most successful and that version was supported by ad revenue from The Deck. No doubt levels of support will increase dramatically for us but that’s part of the trade-off of having successful, thriving software. I’m also personally curious to see if moving to the free model and increasing the app’s downloads by at least 1 or 2 orders of magnitude will improve Twitterrific’s search results in the App Store. Having the very first 3rd party Twitter app in the App Store returned after non-twitter clients in a search has never seemed right to me. If you’ve never tried Twitterrific in the past, there’s no reason left not to give it a go now and we also hope you’ll help us spread the word!